At first glance, Harris County Interim DA Devon Anderson’s First Chance Intervention Program seems like a step forward. Traditional Republican law and order types like it because it is supposedly designed to “scare” first time offenders of marijuana possession so much that they will forever resist taking a toke on a fatty. But Houston NORML has a few questions for the interim DA:
- Is the person being arrested? (The fact sheet uses the word “detained” when referring to an encounter with HPD or HCSO and uses the word “arrested” when referring to an encounter with any other law enforcement agency)
- If an individual is detained by HPD or HCSO, and then transported to a police station, does this constitute an arrest or an investigative detention?
- When the person is taken to the substation to be identified and fingerprinted, and then offered the First Chance Intervention Program, how does the individual agree to the program? By signing a document? If a document has to be signed, is the person admitting guilt or giving up any of their rights? If they sign an agreement or answer questions in order to assess eligibility for the program, are they making any statements that can be used against them at some later date? Can the individual have an attorney present at the substation prior to entering into any agreement and still participate in the program?
- If the person is detained but not arrested by HPD or HCSO, is the visit to the substation voluntary? Will the person be allowed to drive his or her own vehicle to the station? Will the person’s vehicle be impounded? Will the person be read the Miranda warning and afforded due process rights?
- If arrested or detained by HPD or HCSO and transported to the station, will there be a recording in a log of that arrest? A mugshot? Will any documents be created in that process? If so, are they public record?
- Will criminal charges ever be filed against an accused person who is eligible for the program, agrees to participate, and completes the program? If not, are there records relating to an arrest, or any other record that will need to be expunged?
- Will any of Harris County’s other 50+ law enforcement agencies (other than HPD and HCSO) be utilizing the program? (The fact sheet states, “Under this pilot program, offenders arrested by an agency other than the HPD or the HCSO will be sent to jail and offered the program in Court.”)
- If avoiding jail is part of the program, how can someone be offered the same program in Court after already being sent to jail?
- If avoiding criminal charges is part of the program, how can someone be offered the same program at a Court appearance in which they are answering to a criminal charge?
- How much of a police officer’s total time is estimated to be occupied throughout the process of detaining the accused person, transporting them to a police substation, identifying, fingerprinting, offering them the program, filing any necessary reports, and releasing them from custody?
- How many offenders (by your estimate) will be brought into a police station or substation on a daily basis? Will they be a distraction or otherwise jeopardize the productivity of our law enforcement officials fulfilling their duties?
- Will people be treated equally across all of Harris County? Or will they be treated differently based on where in the county they are located or which law enforcement agency they encounter?
I would love to hear the answers to those questions. As well, I would love to hear how the Anderson campaign, which viciously attacked former DA Pat Lykos when she used a similar setup for DWI, called DIVERT, explain how and why her program is legal.
DA candidate Kim Ogg, has a simple program: follow the 2007 law and give low level possessors of marijuana a ticket, which can then be dismissed after performing community service. Check it out: HB 2391 passed in 2007 with the support of Rep. Debbie Riddle and signed by Gov. Perry. So don’t even say this is a partisan Democratic bill.
Ogg’s program follows state law, gets officers back on the street immediately so that they can protect you, frees up the county jail for violent offenders, keeps kids from having criminal records that haunt them for their lifetime, and saves taxpayers money.
I encourage you to evaluate both candidates in this race. Don’t vote Republican or Democrat just because that is what you always do – the criminal justice system should not be partisan. Evaluate both women, talk to them, question them. Then, you decide which candidate is the right choice for justice in Harris County and vote for that candidate.
A reader was kind enough to send me Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s written policy about Devon Anderson’s pilot program. All the work for officers, nothing to show for it.